Sunday, July 8, 2018

Darkblood Chronicles

Well, I’ve recently finished playing an Indie RPG that I think is good, so you know what that means: it’s time for a rant extolling its virtues and trying to convince you that it’s worth buying and playing. Why? Because a good RPG is a good RPG, but the little guys need the attention more to keep making them..

So, before we begin, I’ll be transparent about this: the creator of Darkblood Chronicles, Dorian Tokici, personally contacted me and asked me to play his game and write a rant about it. I haven’t been bribed or anything--he did offer me a free copy of the game, but I opted to buy it naturally--but if you’re concerned about my vanity getting in the way of my objectivity, then it’s only fair to warn you that I was very flattered to be personally asked. Subjective or not, however, my opinion is that Darkblood Chronicles is a solid, intelligent, and singular RPG, that I am better off for having played.

So what is Darkblood Chronicles? Well, I can tell you what it isn’t: what it’s advertised to be. Yeah, on its Steam page, the game’s blurb describes it as a Survival Horror JRPG, and 1 of the games this summary draws a parallel to is Parasite Eve. That ain’t true, and don’t go into Darkblood Chronicles expecting anything of the sort. It’s a dark game with an atmosphere of gloom and desolation, but it doesn’t inspire or use fear, it doesn’t use visual and audio cues to unsettle you, and it’s no more a survival situation than any other given RPG environment. That’s not to say that Darkblood Chronicles doesn’t have certain elements you can find in some survival horror games--Dorian Tokici has listed Silent Hill as 1 of this game’s inspirations, and it shows--but the elements Darkblood Chronicles takes from such titles are more of an intellectual nature, rather than visceral or emotional.

Which, frankly, is not a bad thing, if you ask me. I don’t really care much for horror as an overall genre, and while Parasite Eve 1 was, indeed, a great RPG, it hits a pretty difficult target. I think I much prefer what I perceive Darkblood Chronicles to actually be: an 80s-style dark fantasy adventure, like Labyrinth, or The Neverending Story. It’s an adventure through a dark, strange, vaguely-disturbing yet somehow uniquely appealing other realm whose existence and nature are intrinsically tied to the protagonist, a world which may not even be anything more than a manifestation of its protagonist’s psyche as she tries to work through the weight of the torments within her heart. Thus, it definitely seems to me to have more to do with Fantastica, or Jareth’s Kingdom, or even a much darker version of the Land of Oz, than it does with most survival horror settings and approaches. Which, again, I’m perfectly happy with, because not only is that a lot more palatable to me anyway, not to mention a more natural fit to the RPG genre, but it also makes Darkblood Chronicles far more unique, as I have yet to play any other RPG that really hits that particular note.

Don’t let the movies I compared it to throw you off, however: I simply use them as a way of describing its overall premise, approach, and aesthetic, to some degree. This is not a kids’ RPG. Darkblood Chronicles is an RPG that wants to describe and explore the concept of loss, show its hold over us and the destructive power it has upon those left behind to deal with it, and the game incorporates things such as ritual sacrifice, abusive family environments, and serial killers into its narrative and lore, along with a whole, heaping bunch of symbolism. Darkblood Chronicles is an RPG defined very skillfully by its theme, with the miasma of loss not only the focus of its plot and protagonist, but also permeating the environment, the visual style, and the music. The atmosphere itself is a symbol, in Darkblood Chronicles.

DC is a very intelligent RPG, that wants its audience to really think about the ideas and facts of life that it presents. Needless to say, I greatly appreciate that, because what I most love in my RPGs is food for thought, ideas and philosophies and emotions that I can carry with me and nibble ponderously upon. Essentially, what I like in an RPG is heavy storytelling art to grow myself from, and Darkblood Chronicles is 1 of many titles in the genre to provide this. But it is also, I should note, a worthwhile adventure on a surface level, as well; it does not require you to be in full analysis mode to enjoy it to some degree. Like, it's more Fallout than Planescape: Torment, if you follow.

1 thing I also find quite neat about this game is that it takes a unique approach to multiple endings. Lots of RPGs have more than 1 possible ending, of course. Some go with the standard Bad, Normal, True ending formula, like, say, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, or have different endings which are all roughly equal in quality, dependant upon what you chose to do during the game’s course, such as Knights of the Old Republic 1. But in pretty much every RPG I can recall having played, each ending is a distinctive, set entity, and the only reason to see more than 1 is curiosity at how things play out according to a different path. Darkblood Chronicles, however, takes a different approach with its 5 endings. Each 1 shows a different conclusion, as you would expect, but you’re really meant to experience all 5 to get the most out of any individual ending among them, because each ending reveals a lot about the lore and nature of the game’s setting and defining past events, which not only affect your understanding of and appreciation for the game’s story, theme, and characters, but also increases what you can get from the other endings, as they all connect to and rely on the stuff revealed in the others. It’s an interesting and engaging way to get you to put in the effort to see every possible conclusion to the game, because even if you got the ending you personally prefer, you’ll only be able to like it more by seeing the other possible paths.

I also like that Darkblood Chronicles manages to walk a very tricky line between homage and complete originality, and get the best of both sides. DC is proud of the games from which it draws inspiration, and Mr. Tokici clearly wants to pay respect to the RPGs that defined his younger days. As such, expect to see all kinds of references and aesthetic/method nods to Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, Wild Arms, Shadow Hearts, Shin Megami Tensei, and many other major titles of the SNES and 32-bit days of RPGs. Yet, Darkblood Chronicles nonetheless feels very much like an entity unto itself, rather than like it has had to lift or lean upon any of its or its creator’s influences. That’s a tough thing to manage when you have as many references as this game does, and I certainly couldn’t hope to define how it’s accomplished. But I do know that DC does it.

Now, this game does have some drawbacks, make no mistake. It takes a bit of time for its plot to really start grabbing you enough to get you thinking and connecting dots, and likewise, its protagonist, Sam, takes a while to really hold your attention, since the majority of her noteworthy traits are related to her connection to the game’s story and purpose. The dialogue is, at times, a little stiff (which oddly seems to be a common problem in RPG Maker games; what’s up with that?). Gameplay-wise, it’s not very forgiving, which may or may not be a problem for you, and if you’re not into searching for hidden passages nonstop, then you’re gonna miss a LOT of stuff. Additionally, while it’s possibly the least RPG-Maker-feeling RPG Maker game I’ve played so far, there are certain technical details and aesthetics inherent to RPG Maker that Darkblood Chronicles can’t really escape from, so if you just absolutely can’t handle this development engine, well, that’ll be a turn-off. Finally, while I appreciate a game that lets you suss stuff out for yourself rather than be completely obvious and explicit in every aspect of its lore and philosophy, I do think that Darkblood Chronicles could have benefited from a little more directness in its lore’s secrets and in its ideas. I like figuring some stuff out, peeling away hidden layers of the story and the characters, but I don’t like to feel like I’m probably missing some important stuff because not enough bread crumbs were left to follow the trail, and there are a few moments in Darkblood Chronicles where that feels like the case.

But no RPG is perfect. Even games like Grandia 2 and Planescape: Torment could be improved upon, albeit in very tiny and mostly negligible ways. And while Darkblood Chronicles may not be Grandia 2 or PT, it is definitely a good RPG, maybe even a great one, and I recommend it to you. If you’re looking to recapture some of the feeling of those old 80s Dark Fantasy worlds, and/or if you’re interested in playing an RPG that will challenge you to really think about it, then give Darkblood Chronicles a try.

4 comments:

  1. I humbly thank you sir for bringing light to my project. Yes, the disclaimer was necessary, but ultimately, you made the decisions you did - to purchase the game, and offer a thoughtful insight. So kudos to you sir! This has been helpful to me as not only a developer, but as an analytical person with a critical eye.

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  2. I just finished a game last month that is now on my list of favorite R.P.G.s: Ever Oasis. A game that is really fun, varied and completely insane with a good story and characterization.

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    1. I'll keep the recommendation in mind. Thanks!

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  3. I haven't played it yet, but I had heard some good things from a firned of mine. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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